How to use eye-tracking to uncover what consumers really do on your website – and why

How to use eye-tracking to uncover what consumers really do on your website – and why

For marketers undertaking customer research, whether an interviewee’s responses are truly genuine or not is always a nagging concern. The answer could be in the eyes – eye tracking technology is a powerful method of understanding how interviewees are using a website or other digital service, and recent technological advancements have made it an increasingly indispensable tool.

It’s become a crucial weapon in our arsenal, helping to provide definitive answers as to whether users’ perception of how they use a service matches up with the reality. When an interviewee says the first thing they look at on an e-commerce page is the photos, is that necessarily true – or are they looking straight at the price? Eye tracking gives a definitive answer.

While any experienced researcher will always work to eliminate ‘distortion factors’ – such as subjects providing motivations that they incorrectly believe to be accurate – the dispassionate evidence that eye tracking provides is key in not just eliminating these inaccuracies, but in finding out why they appear.

In fact, it’s once an interviewee’s assumption about their own activities are proven unreliable that some of the most useful discoveries can be made. It’s at that stage that you can re-interview them about the discrepancies, helping to form a three dimensional understanding of why they did what they did on the site.

What Is Eye Tracking?

But what is eye tracking, and how does it actually work? In the purest sense, eye tracking refers to measuring eye activity of a subject. It works by using a combination of a high resolution camera and what’s called near-infrared light. This light is fired at the centre of the eye, where it reflects off the cornea and is measured by the camera.

In practical terms, this means the eye activity of a subject looking at a webpage can be accurately measured and mapped, and we can get a detailed understanding of what is drawing the eye and when. Applied to a large group of participants, it enables the creation of ‘heat maps’ that show areas that are attracting the eye as the hottest, and the areas users are ignoring – whether consciously or unconsciously – as cool or cold. ‘Gaze plots’ are also possible, and show which areas users look at first, and for how long.

Top, an advert for products similar to the client’s. Bottom, the same image, showing where user’s gaze fell – in this case on the words, rather than the pictures.

Above, a gaze plot. The circles show where users’ gazes were concentrated – the numbers inside them indicating in what order they looked at the areas, and the size of the circles signifying how long they looked at them.

When To Use Eye Tracking

Eye tracking is a powerful tool for e-commerce research where the key goal is to discover what drives user behaviour, and which content and calls to action are truly effective. Are users looking at price first, or are they more concerned with the pictures? Are detailed descriptions useful, or are users ignoring them in favour of customer reviews?

These were some of the questions posed to us recently by a global prestige drinks group, who wanted to better understand what was helping to drive sales of their whisky and champagne products online. Since their strategy is to use third party distributors rather than selling directly, the goal was to gain detailed evidence and understanding of users’ conscious and unconscious criteria when buying – an understanding that could then inform recommendations they could make to their distributors on how their products could best be represented to maximise sales.

This was a perfect opportunity to employ eye tracking, and to understand not only how users thought they shopped for these products online, but how they actually did. More importantly, it would help us understand why there might be a discrepancy between perception and reality.

How We Used Eye Tracking

We undertook research simultaneously in San Francisco, London and Paris for this project, spending over sixty hours talking face to face with participants. We interviewed them in detail about how they bought whiskey and champagne online, then seated them in front of a PC outfitted with eye tracking equipment. They were then challenged to search Google for a bottle of whiskey or champagne in a range of imaginary scenarios – as a gift for someone, for example, or as a treat for themselves – while we logged and tracked the searches to understand the keywords that participants used most.

They were then transferred over to the distributor websites used for the test. Participants were asked to browse the website, finding a whiskey or a champagne suitable for the scenario that we suggested to them. While they did so, we tracked and recorded their eye movements.

As they browsed, we continued the interview with questions about their champagne and whiskey buying habits. Did they buy them often? Did they buy online or in a shop? What influenced their buying decisions?

The interview answers, Google search keywords and eye tracking data were then compiled, analysed and cross-referenced, giving us highly actionable information to supply to our client. The key result for the client is that eye tracking has taken the guesswork out of e-commerce design, providing unequivocal evidence of consumer behaviours and preferences. This means detailed briefs for their distributors, and maximised sales of their products.

Find out how ExperienceLab’s expert researchers and eye-tracking technology could provide empirical evidence upon which to base your future product marketing and development. Contact us.